University of Denver

Ensuring the Right to Be Heard

Guidance for Trial Judges in Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants
Principal, Greacen Associates, LLC

Once a case is filed in court, it becomes the court’s responsibility to manage the case toward a just and timely resolution. This inherently entails an obligation for every aspect of the court, and of all of its staff, to provide guidance to self-represented litigants at every phase of the process. For those cases that go to trial, it is essential that the trial judge be able to modify traditional courtroom practices to make it possible for self-represented litigants to present their cases—to give them the opportunity to be heard—even though they are unequipped to perform as experienced lawyers would.

The court systems of most states have not provided the guidance that trial judges need to meet this challenge. To help trial judges better manage cases involving self-represented litigants, this guide summarizes effective practices for resolving cases with one or more self-represented litigants in the courtroom and provides specific examples of their application in the family law context.

These implementation tools were developed by IAALS to support real change on the ground. Each guide is designed to provide the information necessary to help judges, lawyers, court administrators, and others to understand the problems facing our system and the people who use it—and to make improvements that will increase access and bolster public trust and confidence.

This guide stems from IAALS’ work alongside the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, the National Center for State Courts, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges on the Civil Justice Initiative and the Family Justice Initiative.